Monday, December 26, 2011

Should White people be permitted to use the N-word?



First of all, let me begin by stating how much I hate the phrase “the N-Word.” It makes me feel like I’m infantilizing everyone I talk to. We are adults; we can use adult language when appropriate. But I also know that lots of people will not be very happy if their blog feeds suddenly flash the word “nigger” on their screen. Kids, bosses, and many others may be looking over readers’ shoulders. The word is poison and people should be prepared for the controversy they are about to encounter.

But look at what I did. I used the actual word in the first paragraph. Am I allowed to do that? My short answer is “sometimes,” although as we shall see, the brilliant and very funny blogger at Yo, Is this Racist? is going to disagree with me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is infidelity just another product to sell?



It is no secret that people cheat in their relationships (although it may be a secret to their partners). Given that infidelity is so frequent, it is worth asking whether it is moral to sell cheating and whether it is acceptable to celebrate those who have affairs. Famously, the website ashleymadison.com advertises their find-someone-to-cheat-with service using the tagline “Life is short. Have an affair.” Now they are using Newt Gingrich as their poster boy. I have to admit, I love their billboard (pictured above).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Is hypocrisy a vice?



 Amy Koch, the Minnesota State Senate Majority Leader resigned a couple of days ago, after she was confronted about having an affair with one of her staff members. This is nothing new; it feels like every month there’s a new sex scandal. I myself don’t really care what people do on their off hours and I’m unconvinced that fidelity has much to do with how good of a leader a person is. What bothers me is those who engage in behaviors that they preach or legislate against. You know what I’m talking about: the anti-gay rights politician who ends up getting caught while a male escort “lifts his luggage,” or a family values governor who claims to be hiking the Appalachian Trail while actually flying across the world for extramarital sex. Amy Koch was one of these. As the blog Towleroad sums it up:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is consistency a virtue?

Scott Simon just broadcast a fabulous obituary for Christopher Hitchens, focusing on the late author’s willingness to reconsider what he believed. Unlike today’s politicians who refuse to ever admit that they change their minds, Hitchens took great pride in holding differing opinions and different times in his life. As Simon explains “…I wonder if always making consistency into a virtue is wise for anyone. Why strive to enjoy a rich life, filled with the deep, transforming experiences of family, travel, learning, love, daring, triumph and loss if you're determined just to cling to the same ideas that you've always had?” I certainly couldn’t have said it better.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What is the difference between teaching religion and teaching diversity?


Today, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher asked me a question that I knew would come eventually: do I want to visit her classroom and show students how to play Dreidel? Dreidel is the “official” game of Chanukah and Jewish parents all over the country are asked to give demonstrations to the younger grades in an effort to “even things out.” Teachers give Christmas assignments but parents have to present the alternatives; I declined the invitation. Adina is not just the only Jewish kid in her class, I’m pretty sure she’s the only one at her school. But I believe that religion shouldn’t be taught in schools and this includes my own religion, not just other people’s. I can’t make an exception just because I agree with myself.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How should we argue about the legitimacy of marriage?


In honor of tomorrow’s WHY? episode, people have been sending me links about the nature of marriage. Two stick out from the pack. The first sent to me by a reader named Jay, is a tongue-in-cheek video arguing a version of what our guest will claim, that “traditional” marriage is not actually between one man and one woman. The second, posted by a bunch of people on Facebook, is a heartfelt defense of the rights of lesbians to marry based on their child’s experience of what it means to be a good person. It is noteworthy that no one sent me anything defending traditional marriage, but I’m not sure if this indicates anything about PQED’s audience, me, or if it doesn’t mean anything at all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Next Episode of WHY? "Philosophy of Marriage," with Stephanie Coontz. Sunday, December 11, 5 p.m. central


 For a free, high-resolution poster advertising this episode, click here.

Stephanie Coontz argues that the union between one man and one woman has not been the most valued marriage throughout history. Join WHY? as we discuss the traditions of marriage and family, and the morality behind them.

Is it okay to hate another person?



This post is a follow-up from the last one in which I asked about the morality of video games. In that entry, I focused on a possibly-fake game about Christians killing Jews and atheists after the rapture. First, it turns out that there does appear to be a real game that the story is based on, although the article seems to be an exaggeration. (Thanks to our reader Kay, for the heads up.) Second, I suggested that while the game may be wrong to teach hate, hateful opinions aren’t illegal and therefore the game should be allowed to exist.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Can video games be immoral?



A 2006 article about a “new” video game is once again being circulated on the internet. It’s probably a fake, although Snopes.com doesn’t have anything about it. The alleged game is based on the Left Behind series of books, and involves the player pretending to be in a gang of Christians killing Jews and atheists who refuse to convert. The (probably fraudulent) story has sparked outrage both from people who are offended at the violence against particular groups and by people who feel it misrepresents Christianity. There are also, predictably, people who argue that the Jews and atheists in question deserve it and others who claim that this is entirely consistent with the history of Christian power.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What moral obligations do we have toward our date?


Business Insider reports a story of a 23-year old woman who used Match.com to pay for her meals. She and her roommates set up spreadsheets and created ground rules for how to get the most meals out of their dates. After a while, she was saving $1200 per month by having someone else pay for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She did it because she wanted to live more lavishly than she could afford.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How much authority should schools have over a child’s life?


 Last week Kansas high school student Emma Sullivan visited her state capital and then tweeted that she wished she could tell her governor that “he sucked” in person. She then ended the tweet with the hashtag: “#heblowsalot.” I will admit, I think that’s a funny hashtag.

One of the Governor’s staff members found the tweet and called the Principal who demanded she write a letter of apology. Then the Governor experienced The Streisand Effect, the online phenomenon in which the attempt to hide something calls disproportionate attention to the thing one is trying to hide. In response to the fracas, Sullivan’s Twitter followers went from about fifty people to over 8,000, and media coverage went national. Today, Governor Brownback apologized for the reaction; the complete opposite of what his Communications Director wanted. No one is asking Sullivan to apologize anymore.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are stupid traditions worth preserving too?


President Obama pardoned the Thanksgiving turkeys yesterday. For our foreign readers, this is a White House tradition in which the American President finds two turkeys and declares that they will not be eaten, sending them off to live a life of ease in a petting zoo or some national monument. This year’s birds were named “Liberty” and “Peace,” so needless to say, he couldn’t have killed either one. 

This tradition is dumb. First off, the turkeys can’t be pardoned because they haven’t been convicted of a crime. Maybe they could be rescued or saved, but that’s not the same thing. More importantly, there are no consequences of the pardon. Obama (and most of America) are still going to eat other birds, so there isn’t even the symbolic value of swearing off the slaughter of millions of living creatures.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Should statistics change people’s minds?

Source: http://dailyinfographic.com/face-off-occupy-wall-street-vs-tea-party-infographic

A friend of mine just had a breast cancer scare. Given where the mass was in her body, people kept reassuring her that she had only a 25% chance of malignancy. Her response was always the same: “You are telling me that I have a one-in-four chance of getting cancer. These are NOT good odds!”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Is satire ever harmless?

 
There’s a fine line between laughing with someone and laughing at them. This is made more complex by the ironic stance that seems ubiquitous on the internet. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement started, there has been an avalanche of jokes, satires, and derivative activities feeding off of the term “occupy.” Most of it isn’t making fun of the people involved, but I can’t help wonder whether it still works unconsciously to delegitimize the movement, even among those who would otherwise support it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is there a human right to toilet access?


Poster courtesy of: http://www.worldtoilet.org/WTD/

Today is World Toilet Day, a day dedicated to calling attention to the one-third of people around the world who do not have access to flushable toilets. Campaigns like this remind those of us who take infrastructure for granted just how difficult life can be for the poor.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When is shock a moral political tool?

My decision to use a pixelated version of this picture is one I am uncomfortable with, precisely because, as I say below, I think there is nothing wrong with showing nudity. But I also know that this is going to show up on people's Facebook and RSS feeds and I didn't want to impose the picture on others without warning. Do you think readers would react differently to my comments if I had shown the original picture instead of the censored one?

Much of the liberal-democratic world is used to nudity in protests. From PETA to peace activists, nudity has become an effective tool to get attention (link probably NSFW), precisely because the media likes to cover it. But these tactical decisions are the result of prurient motives -- the media likes to film nudity because people like to look at it; these pictures are often arousing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Today is World Philosophy Day: How should we celebrate it?


Today is World Philosophy Day, at least as declared by the fine people at UNESCO. No celebrations were planned where I am (in part because we didn't know it was World Philosophy Day), but I am forced to wonder what would the ideal celebration would be. In Plato's Symposium, the philosophers decide that they should celebrate by rejecting alcohol and discussing the true nature of Love. I find, however, that a little alcohol might actually help the discussion. At least, in that respect, I follow the advice of the Philosophy Professors at the University of Wooloomooloo in Australia. (See the video below.)

Our address is now www.PQED.org!


Greetings everyone. As a sign that the slow posting season is now leaving us, we're happy to announce our new URL:

www.pqed.org

Blogger assures us that the old URL will continue to work, but adjust your bookmarks and tell your friends. anyway And we promise, more exciting posts will follow shortly.

Here is a QR-code to prove how hip and with it we now are:



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Next Episode of WHY? "Philosophy of Violence" with Steven Pinker. Sunday, November 13, at 5 p.m. Central



Join WHY? as we ask whether the world is less violent and whether humanity is progressing morally.

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RSVP for this on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=180166742072305
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"The Philosophy of Violence"
with guest Steven Pinker


Sunday, November 13, 5 p.m. central.

Listen live from anywhere in the world at www.whyradioshow.org
and in North Dakota at 89.3 (Grand Forks), 91.9 (Fargo), 90.5 (Bismarck), and on Prairie Public radio stations across the state.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Should age be a factor in sending people to die?





War favors the young. Children and teens are regularly sent to kill and be killed. But recently, in Japan, a group of retirees offered to sacrifice themselves by working to repair the dangerously irradited Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. They are explicit that they want to go in the place of younger people with more of a future.


Click here for an article from NPR, including an audio and text version of it.

The question before us, is whether it is moral to take age into account like this. Clearly, the people are volunteers, but suppose they weren't. Would it be wrong then? Isn't there a case to be made that relying on the elderly in cases like this limits the collective damage? On the other had, don't all people, regardless of age have equal moral worth? I'm wondering what your thoughts are.

Thanks long time reader, Elizabeth, for sending me the article and the idea for the blog entry! If you have ideas for the blog, send them to ippl@und.edu

How do you identify sexism?

From the comic "Dykes to Watch Out For" (c) Allison Bechdel. http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/
Just to get the blog back on track, I'm going back to posting some short subjects to get our (read:my) brains going again. Some of these will be older and have been screaming at me (in my head) to post them for ages. Here is the first one: the famed Bechdel test.

Cartoonist Allison Bechdel points out that most American movies do not have significant female presence. To see if they do, she wants us to ask three simple questions: 
 (1) Are there two or more women who have names?
(2) Do they talk to each other?
(3) Do they talk to each other about anything other than men?

Here is a video that lists just a few of movies that fail the test:



Do you think that this is indeed a systemic problem as the video and cartoon suggests? And, do you think movies that fail the test are indeed sexist? Are there other simple ways like this to identify sexism that would help those who can't easily identify it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, together again!

PQED writer and WHY?'s host Jack Russell Weinstein is this week's guest on NPR's long-running show The Thomas Jefferson Hour. In the episode "Untrammeled Economy," Jack portrays Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith, and discusses morality and its connection to economics.

Click here to listen to online -- look for episode 938.
(Or, click here if you want to download the episode or subscribe to the TJ hour Podcast) 

And revisit the Thomas Jefferson Hour next week when Jack and the host Clay Jenkinson discuss the classic book Robinson Crusoe (and argue a lot!).


Jack’s first appearance as Adam Smith was in Thomas Jefferson Hour episode #766. Go to the TJ Hour Archives to listen.

Clay, by the way, was the guest on the most recent episode of WHY? "Philosophy of Water." Click here to listen.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Next Episode of WHY? "The Philosophy of Water" with Clay Jenkinson. Sunday, September 11, 5 p.m. Central



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WHY? Radio presents:

"Philosophy of Water"
with guest Clay Jenkinson.

Sunday, September 11 at 5 p.m. central


Water is a force for life and for destruction. We simultaneously take it for granted and infuse it with profound meanings. Some of the deepest political battles revolve around its access, yet for most of us, these debates are invisible or disregarded. What is the philosophy of water? How does it affect our lives, and what happens what we are denied it, face too much of it, and when it becomes our enemy? Join host Jack Russell Weinstein and his guest Clay Jenkinson as they swim though these questions, asking about the legacy of hurricane Katrina, the recent floods in Minot, North Dakota, and the struggle to supply clean, accessible water to the world.

Clay Jenkinson is the Director of The Dakota Institute through The Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Chief Consultant to The Theodore Roosevelt Center through Dickinson State University, Distinguished Humanities Scholar at Bismarck State College, and a columnist for the Bismarck Tribune. A cultural commentator who has devoted most of his professional career to public humanities programs, Clay is the host of public radio's The Thomas Jefferson Hour. He has been honored by two United States presidents for his work. On November 6, 1989, he received one of the first five Charles Frankel Prizes, the National Endowment for the Humanities' highest award (now called the National Humanities Medal), at the nomination of the NEH Chair, Lynne Cheney. Since his first work with the North Dakota Humanities Council in the late 1970s, including a pioneering first-person interpretation of Meriwether Lewis, Clay Jenkinson has made thousands of presentations throughout the United States and its territories, including Guam and the Northern Marianas. He is also the author of numerous books.


Send a question in advance or ask it during the show at askwhy@und.edu

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Call WHY? anytime to record your questions for a future show, or just leave a comment. We'll call you back! (701) 428-1510

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Why? Radio Show: www.whyradioshow.org


Twitter: @whyradioshow

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Does power always corrupt?



Lord John Acton famously remarked that “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It is either a pragmatic comment or a cynical one, depending on your point of view, but modern democracies all assume its truth. Government checks and balances are built on the belief that if there are lots of people watching, and other people who can overturn previously made decisions, no single person or group will have too much power. Maybe this safety net works with government, but I can’t help thinking of Acton as I read about what United States airlines are doing at airports.

My comments here are not about the TSA; that’s a whole other discussion. I'm thinking instead about the airline employees themselves. In the last couple of months, a man was booted off of a plane for not pulling up his pants when a pilot told him to. (They were saggy, not obscene, although how low they were is a matter of dispute.) A woman was kicked off a plane because she was falsely accused of going pantsless when she wore a long sweater. And, a different woman, who was crying because her father had just passed away from a fatal heart attack, was removed from a plane because she asked for a glass of wine to calm down. In each of these, the airline employees used the power granted them to protect people passengers from terrorists. The people were no threat at all, and in two of the incidents, the cause was clearly a mistake. The first woman was indeed wearing pants and the second wasn’t drunk. Yet, no one said, simply, “Oops, my mistake. I apologize. Have a nice day.” 


A minute later, we noticed [the employee] chasing us across the lobby. She demanded that I hand over my camera phone so that she could delete the photo I took. I politely refused. She then insisted that I delete the photo while she watched. I again refused. She then informed me that if I didn't delete the photo in her presence, she would call the Houston Police Department, have be arrested, put me on the "no-fly list" and "make me miss my fancy Costa Rica vacation." She stated, "you will never fly my airline again." I asked her what law she was talking about and she replied, "My law."

So, a woman wanted to complain, took a picture of an employee to document an activity, and she was threatened with being added to the no-fly list. Again, this is a list that is designed to protect people from terrorists. The sole purpose of preventing someone from taking a picture is to prevent the possibility of checks and balances. It is to preserve one’s power over another person. The airlines can be sued. Employees can be fired. But none of this can happen without documentation.

After the photograph incident, the TSA confirmed that taking pictures of airport employees is legal. Continental Airlines says that the woman was owed an apology but United Airlines says it’s an acceptable policy. In other words, it is completely arbitrary as to whether or not a person is permitted to take a picture. This violates two key precepts in the philosophy of law: all laws must be publicly known and they must consistently apply to all people. (Inventing a law on the spot is also problematic.) 

There can certainly be a debate as to whether flying is a right or a privilege; similar debates take place about driver’s licenses all the time. But the real issue is whether even a privilege can be taken away for no reason. It seems that the airline employees are trading on their newfound power to protect themselves and to avoid admitting they made a mistake. This, it seems to me, is unacceptable.

There are people who will point out how difficult it is to work in airports and how rude passengers can be. I don’t deny this. But these facts are irrelevant to the issue at hand. Rude people should be held accountable in a proportionate way, including, perhaps, being refused service until they calm down or act respectfully. Nevertheless, being rude is not a crime and it is in no way akin to terrorism. Most importantly, polite people, grieving people, people with a certain fashion sense, or people who want to document activity to make a complaint shouldn’t be denied either rights or privileges because someone else was rude.  

Do you think it’s possible to be in a position of significant power and not abuse it? As Lord Acton points out, it isn’t that power necessarily corrupts, it’s that a lot of it does. Airline employees these days have a lot of power. Do you think that they are a special case? Do you think I’m making more of this than I should, or do you think that any person or group of people, in this same situation, would act in the same way? Are this employees a few bad apples or are we watching human nature at work? 

I will admit that there’s a part of me that worries that this blog post will result in me being put on the no fly list. But that’s just paranoia, right? Right!?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Next Episode of WHY? "Food and Sustainability" with guest Jay Basquiat




WHY? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life
presents:

"Food and Sustainability"
with guest Jay Basquiat


How much thought have you given to the idea of food? Why do we eat some things and not others, even though they are all edible? And, what exactly does it mean to be natural? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the philosophy of food and sustainability: What are the moral rules for manufacturing food, for farming, and for our agricultural priorities? Why does food play such important cultural and spiritual roles in virtually every society? What responsibilities do we have to provide food for other and to provide specific kinds of food for ourselves? And, to what extend is the creation of food – farming, baking, manufacturing, etc. – cultures in and of themselves, and how do those cultures effect the larger ones we live in?

Jay Basquiat is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bismarck State College and sustainably farms near Mandan, ND. He operates a Community Supported Agriculture venture called Baskets of Plenty and serves on the board of the ND Humanities Council.

Listen live from anywhere in the world at www.whyradioshow.org and in North Dakota at 89.3 (Grand Forks),
91.9 (Fargo), 90.5 (Bismarck), and on Prairie Public radio stations across the state.



(This episode was pre-recorded on August 5, 2011)


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Call WHY? anytime to record your question for the show. We'll call you back!
(701) 428-1510

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Why? Radio Show

Twitter: @whyradioshow


Please contact: ippl@und.edu for any questions


Monday, August 1, 2011

WHY? needs your questions in advance for our next show: "Food and Sustainability" with guest Jay Basquiat



How much thought have you given to the idea of food? Why do we eat some things and not others, even though they are all edible? And, what exactly does it mean to be natural? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the philosophy of food and sustainability: What are the moral rules for manufacturing food, for farming, and for our agricultural priorities? Why does food play such important cultural and spiritual roles in virtually every society? What responsibilities do we have to provide food for other and to provide specific kinds of food for ourselves?  And, to what extend is the creation of food – farming, baking, manufacturing, etc. – cultures in and of themselves and how do those cultures effect the larger ones we live in?

Our August show will deal with these and many more vexing questions, but we will be prerecording it, so we need your questions in advance.

Please write us or call us with your questions by August 5th at 4 p.m.


Our new 24-hour question line: 701-428-1510.

Our guest, Jay Basquiat,is an Assistant Professor at Bismarck State College and sustainably farms near Mandan, ND. He operates a Community Supported Agriculture venture called Baskets of Plenty and serves on the board of the ND Humanities Council.

“Food and Sustainability” will be broadcast August 14, at 5 p.m. central, on Prairie Public radio and via our website at www.whyradioshow.org.



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"Like" us on Facebook at our new fan page!

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Call WHY? anytime to record your question for the show. We'll call you back!
(701) 428-1510

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PQED, the IPPL/Why? Blog:  www.philosophyinpubliclife.blogspot.com

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Why? Radio Show




Please contact: ippl@und.edu for any questions

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Read a new article about WHY? and its host


"Jack Russell Weinstein says that society no longer condemns its philosophers to drink hemlock; it just sequesters them in universities."
This is the first line of a new article about WHY? and its host, published in Boston University Today. Jack received his Ph.D. from Boston University in philosophy in 1998.

If you're interested in reading it, click: "Radio Show Brings Philosophy to the Masses" | BU Today.
And, for those of you who haven't seen it yet, here is an article on WHY? from Humanities Magazine, the official magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities. If you can't read it via the embed below, here is the original link.


As always, your feedback is most welcome.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How should we define terrorism?

Interestingly, I could not find an illustration of "terrorism" or "terrorist" that did not beg the question asked in this entry. This "terrorist buster" logo is actually from the CIA website!

A friend posted the following data on Facebook:

Terror attacks in Europe 2006-2009:
Total number: 1770
Islamic: 6 (0.34%)
Right Wing Ethno-Nationalist and Separatist: 1596 (90.17%)
Left Wing: 106 (5.99%)
...Other/Not Specified: 62 (3.50%)
Source: Euro Pol

I thought it was interesting and posted it myself. The overall numbers seemed so much larger than I thought, and, of course, the percentage of Islamic terrorist attacks was even smaller than I would have guessed (although the overall trend was not surprising to me). I wanted to pass it on.

People saw the post, shared it, and commented on it, but someone asked the question that I myself would have asked had it not been 4 a.m. when I read it (and had I not been suffering from insomnia): what is terrorism? The answer was harder to find than I would have thought.

The source of the chart is not the data. The chart probably comes from blog devoted to documenting anti-Muslim feeling and caricatures with the unfortunate name of loonwatch.com. They posted the European analysis as a follow-up to a similar analysis about the USA. The data, on the other hand, comes from two different sources: Europol for European Data and the FBI for American data. Here is what the breakdown of terrorism in the US looks like (according to loonwatch):

Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil by Group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database

When I dug deeper, I found the FBI report and the federal definition of terrorism. It is intuitively satisfying: “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).

So, terrorism according to the USA, is using force to intimidate or harm for political objectives. Fair enough. But this isn’t the definition the FBI used for the report. Instead, when collecting numbers about domestic terrorism, they used: “unlawful use, or threatened use,” In other words, for domestic classification they used threats of terrorism rather than terrorist acts. This too makes sense. Threats intimidate and the purpose of violence is often to make threats credible.

Interestingly, the FBI didn’t use threats to define international terrorism. There terrorism refers to “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life,” intended to coerce, that are against the law in the US or other states. Why would they use a different definition domestically and internationally? The cynic in me wonders if they want to increase the numbers for political purposes, but the realist guesses that since their job is to stop acts based on threats, domestic threats are just more serious to the FBI than international ones. I hope it’s the latter, of course.

Europol’s definition was harder to find; it was in a very long report available as a PDF. They distinguished threat statements and terrorist attacks. Here is the data for 2010 in Europe:

• 249 terrorist attacks
• 611 individuals arrested for terrorist
related offences
• 46 threat statements against EU
Member States
• 307 individuals tried for terrorism charges

There is a lot more terrorism than I knew. And if you want details, both the FBI and the Euro Pol reports provide them. But what is most surprising to me is that terrorism includes everything from burglary, to taking animals from laboratories, to vandalism, to bombing and kidnapping. What distinguishes these acts from other crimes is the intentions. If the purpose of an act or threat is to influence governments and policy, then it’s terrorism.

Philosophers spend a lot of time arguing about how to gauge the moral worth of something. Do we judge an act by the intention or by the consequences? Is saving a baby from drowning equally good, for example, if you do it to get famous instead of doing it to save a life? It seems that in the case of terrorism, this debate has been resolved. It doesn’t matter if an act is just a threat or if it’s actually carried out, it doesn’t matter if someone spray paints a message or kills 3,000 people. What does matter is the motivation behind the act. If the purpose is political, then it is a terrorist act.

But this means that the same act is going to be punished in a variety of ways and a terrorist threat may have more consequences than a random murder of a stranger. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with this. Furthermore, as a friend once said to me (I’m paraphrasing, here), a murder is a murder, whether it’s because you don’t like the individual or you hate them because of the color of their skin. The consequences are the same. She was talking about “hate crimes,” and I don't know that I agree, but the underlying question is the same: how much should someone’s motive matter in a crime? Isn’t it the harm that’s done that matters? In the case of terrorism, we can ask whether attacking a state is more serious than attacking a person. Relatives and friends of the victim might not agree that it is.

I am glad Loonwatch is out there; Islamophobia needs to be recorded and curbed. The data is tremendously interesting and frightening, and it shows, yet again, that many people are much frightened of Muslims in general, and they shouldn’t be. But as always, anytime we try to define anything, there are a myriad of philosophical issues that complicate the issue. Nothing, not even recording a list of terrorist incidents, is straight forward. Our definition is going to heavily influence our data and our motivation is going to affect our definition. Objectivity, as always, is very hard to find.